Malaysian part of Sheffield team producing COVID-19 antibody test


A MALAYSIAN researcher is part of a team of engineers and scientists from the University of Sheffield’s Chemical and Biological Engineering Department that has produced SARS-Cov-2 virus components for COVID-19 antibody test.

Dr Yusuf Johari, 35, a senior research associate in bioprocessing and complex molecules at the university, said the component parts namely ‘spike’ glycoprotein that protrudes from the surface of the virus are being used to create COVID-19 antibody test kits.

He said this spike-based antibody test is more robust and reliable against COVID-19 as it will help reveal the true scale of the pandemic in the population, the persistence or level of any immunity, as well as whether vaccines used are effective.

“Even though that ‘spike’ is very difficult to produce, the world now has, based on the work at Sheffield, an improved biomanufacturing process for this complex molecule, which in turn will enable a very accurate COVID-19 antibody test.

“It could potentially be used for recovered COVID-19 patients to determine antibodies in their blood or mucosal secretions that specifically target the virus.

“If it yields positive result on the recovered patients, then they have the immunity and therefore can travel around happily or they can choose to donate their plasma to develop vaccines,” he said when contacted by Bernama.

Yusuf, from Kuala Lumpur, became involved with this collaboration with more than 20 experts over the past two months, and was appointed as the lead researcher for the upstream production process based on his expertise in bioprocessing and complex molecules.

“Our team leader, Professor David James, is an expert in biopharmaceutical research at the University of Sheffield.

“As the ‘spike’ component of COVID-19 is a very complex molecule that cannot be easily produced in cell culture, his laboratory at the University of Sheffield is arguably the best place to develop an optimal biomanufacturing platform.

“”We are currently producing the ‘spike’ in larger quantities to enable the National Health Service to roll out the antibody test to a larger proportion of the UK population, as well as further improving the production efficiency.

“The material is now being used successfully by local Sheffield hospitals and university medical research laboratories,” he said.

Yusuf said this research is a part of global efforts in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

“As a Malaysian, I feel proud and humbled to be able to contribute towards it and work alongside brilliant biological engineers and scientists.

“My advice to the next generation of engineers and scientists; early tertiary education is more about training the way you think and work, therefore take upon learning all subjects of your course earnestly even though they may seem unrelated.

“You may aim for the moon, but more importantly focus on the work needed to get there,” he said.